Food Chaining As A Tool To Nourish
how to food chain

Food Chaining As A Tool To Nourish

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Table of Contents

apples to oatmeal food chain
apples to oatmeal food chain

What Is Food Chaining?

Food chaining is dietary therapy which capitalizes on a child’s current food likes to expand food preferences and increase total food intake. 

Food chaining creates links between food profiles.  The practice  uses sensory measures such as similar textures, colors, smells, or  flavors. 

Food chaining works by combining one food a person enjoys with one fear food or food of limited tolerance.  This will ultimately help to increase the total nutrition consumed in the diet.

Fruits and breads
Expand On Fruit Tolerated By Using In Different Ways

Who Can Use Food Chaining?

Food chaining can be beneficial for anyone!  There are a certain groups of people that may benefit the most from food chaining.

People that may benefit most from a food chan include: 

Food chaining can also be beneficial for those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or orthorexia. 

Strawberries and strawberry Ice Cream
Combining Liked Foods With New Foods

Why Should We Food Chain To Increase Acceptance?

For some, the fear of food is so great that it might feel like a plate of spiders is being placed in front of them at every meal.

Extreme food aversions may lead to: 

  • Weight loss and malnourishment
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of shame/guilt
  • Clinical signs. of malnourishment (constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, abnormal lab values). 

For those with very limited food intake, it is critical we increase their total nutrition intake as soon as possible.

Food chaining can be a way to increase food tolerance while minimizing anxiety that comes along with trying new foods. 

Food Chain Example Of Chicken Strips To Fish Sticks
Chicken Strips to Fish Sticks Food Chain

Where Do I Start With Food Chaining:

The first thing we need to do when we examine foods that we will chain is to look at the food a person already tolerates. 

We can map out foods a person tolerates using a food hierarchy chart (list tolerance on a scale 1-100). 

An example of how to create a food hierarchy chart can be found here. 

We can also assess food tolerances by lumping them into easy categories. A good example is:

  • red (off limits foods)
  • yellow (sometimes foods)
  • green (always acceptable foods)

When we are able to categorize tolerated foods we will often notice patterns.

For example, a person may be more drawn too crunchy, smooth or cold foods.  

You may also notice the person leans towards foods of a certain color. 

Finding these similarities among already tolerated foods can help us to design our food chain to include new foods  that are similar enough to already tolerated foods.  

Looking for flavor/taste/texture similarities in foods is also sometimes known as flavor mapping.  .

Two Children with banana and fruit
Those With ARFID Can Benefit from Chaining Food

Using Flavor Masking In Food Chaining

An excellent way to include a new food item in food chaining is by flavor masking. 

For example, certain seasonings or sauces may be well tolerated.  

We can utilize these accepted seasonings/sauces to mask the flavor and textural profile of the new food as it is being introduced. 

Example of food chaining grid detailing french fries to sugar snap peas
French Fries To Sugar Snap Peas Food Chain

Using Flavor Masking In Food Chaining

An excellent way to include. anew food item in food chaining is by flavor masking. 

For example certain seasonings or sauces may be well tolerated.  We can utilize these to mask the flavor and textural profile of the new food as it is being introduced. 

We may use honey mustard dressing as a way to introduce chicken or fish.  

Ideally, we will reduce the use of the flavor mask as the food becomes more accepted. 

Toast with avocado and beets and peanut butter
Combine One Liked Food With One New Food Choice To Increase Tolerance

Food Chaining Examples

Ice Cream To Strawberries Chain Steps

  1. Favorite ice cream 
  2. Ice cream with strawberry sauce
  3. Ice cream with blended strawberries and chunks
  4. Strawberry jam or applesauce
  5. Strawberry pieces. 

French Fries To Sugar Snap Peas Chain Steps

  1.  French fries 
  2. Potato Chips
  3. Veggies Sticks or Sphered Potato Chips
  4. Salted/Seasoned Sautéed or Roasted Snap Peas OR Harvest Snap snacks. 
  5. Fresh sugar snap peas

Apples To Oatmeal Chain Steps

  1. apple
  2. Baked Apple
  3. Baked apple Drizzled with syrup or sweetener
  4. Oatmeal with apple chunks or applesauce
  5. Oatmeal with apple, raisins, or other sweetener. 

Oatmeal to Store Bought Muffin Chain Steps

  1. Oatmeal with fruit or sweetener
  2. Oat Muffins with fruit
  3. Store bought muffin

Chicken Strips To Fish Sticks Chain Steps

  1. Preferred brand of chicken strips
  2. Varied chicken strip brands (frozen, Mcdonalds, kfc)
  3. Baked vs fried chicken
  4. Fish sticks in favorite prepared style.  
breads and sauces on yellow paper
Experiment With Like Colors to Increase Food Tolerance

Tips For Success In Expanding Food Tolerance

  • Don’t give up! Sometimes it takes between 10-15 times of being exposed to foods for it to be tolerated.
  • Alter the method. If the food chain isn’t tolerated try changing the cooking method, color, or seasoning of the new food. 
  • Only introduce one new food at a time.  Remember, new foods are likely to produce an extreme amount of anxiety. 
  • Make it fun! Themed meals such as sports themed or a travel destinations may increase the likely hood of trying the food. 
Berries and bread
Experiment With Like Textures In Food Chains

Have You Tried Food Chaining? How Did It Go?

I’ve utilized principles in food chaining with clients suffering from sensory issues around food, children, and those with eating disorders. 

I’ve also used food chaining with my own child, nieces and nephews!  Food chaining is an excellent way to help someone feel safe in exploring foods. 

Do you have any tips/tricks when it comes to food chaining?  Drop them in the comments below. 

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

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